|All photos taken by Pallina60 Loon|
Quan Lavender: You dared to show an installation which is very personal and gives the visitors a strong expression of being hospitalized. Let's start with the beginning. We all have moods. What made you starting to think that something is not “normal” with you?
Chuckmatrix Clip: That's actually a tough question. I had kind of a slow descent into depression. The first I was really aware that something wasn't right was when I became suicidal. But it took another several months before the manic symptoms started to become unmanageable. It was another couple of months of rapid cycling (relatively swift transitions between depressed and manic) before other people started to comment on my behavior. But, when you're LIVING it and you're undiagnosed, it seems like you are the way you are and you rationalize it. You believe that this IS normal. I didn't really start to understand the scope of my illness until I was in the hospital for a while. With medication and some guidance I started to realize that the mood swings weren't normal and that the delusions, paranoia and hallucinations weren't real. Then in hind sight I was able to trace the beginnings of some of my symptoms to about midway through high school.
Quan Lavender: How was your experience with the health system? Did they help you the right way?
Chuckmatrix Clip: Without going into too much detail... They gave me help right away, yes. They had to. Things that I did, said, and openly planned to do, resulted in the doctors having me committed. One of them told my parents that I couldn't come home after a month in the hospital because if I did, I would be a headline within six months.
My experience with the mental health system is probably best described as a kind of tough love. There were people... doctors, social workers, nurses and orderlies that I can credit each with certain little breakthroughs. It seemed like they were just mean or insensitive at the time, but a little later I would come to the realization that they were giving me the next wake up call, the next kick in the pants that I needed at that moment to progress further in my treatment. It was the kind of help I needed. It was the way I needed to be dealt with at that time, and it's not the way they deal with everyone.
Quan Lavender: What about your friends and family, could they deal with the issue. Have they been helpful for you?
Chuckmatrix Clip: There were a few friends who just abandoned me. They dropped off of the face of the earth, and I never heard from them again. There were a couple who stuck by, and did what they could to support me. As far as family, I credit my parents with a lot. They came to the hospital once a week for months. It was an hour drive each way, but they would come to do family therapy with me and my therapist. They also did their research. They learned about my illness as I did. They learned the signs and symptoms of when I was having an issue or not and they went to groups and talked to doctors about the best ways to support and help me. They also played a defensive role for me. They told other members of the family, who didn't quite understand what was going on with me, what things were ok to talk about or not, what they could or could not give me, etc. In many ways they had lost the son they knew, and fought every bit as hard as I did, sometimes harder, to help find me again.
Quan Lavender: In the note card in your exhibition you describe how the teddy bear with the scent of your mother was the turning point in your healing process. Please tell about your fight back to life.
Chuckmatrix Clip: The climb back up from rock bottom isn't a steady climb. I had a lot of slips where I would fall back, and for a long time I had difficulty really grasping the fact that I was ill. I just wanted to go home. I wanted to stop being treated like there was something wrong with me and go back to the way things were. That was the biggest hurdle, admitting... no... KNOWING that I was ill. That moment came with my therapist in the hospital. Her name was Barbara. She forced me to scrutinize every single aspect of myself. One day she settled on one very seemingly unimportant detail. She kept asking why I wouldn't wear anything but black. No answer was good enough. Nothing I said, no excuse or explanation I gave was acceptable for her. I got more and more flustered and frustrated until I finally broke down and started sobbing and said "I don't know alright? I don't know! I DON'T KNOW WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH ME!" She leaned back in her chair with a little smile and said "Good... now we can get to work." I had no IDEA what she was talking about, but later I realized it was in that moment when I stopped rationalizing, explaining and downplaying my symptoms and behavior, and just admitted I was fucked up and had no clue why or how to change it.
She did a lot of the initial work with me of laying the foundation for the man I am now. She studied every bit of myself from my personality to my opinions on pretty much everything to my sexuality. Nothing was to be taken for granted or assumed to be understood. I had to analyze everything about myself, from my earliest memories to the then present day.
I had a lot of therapy once I was out of the hospital as well. One on one therapy, group therapy, anger management, cognitive therapy... The list goes on and on. Every step of the way I learned more about myself, my illness and gained insight on how to recognize and manage my own symptoms. To this day I use many of the tools I learned in those sessions. I almost never take for granted the fact that I'm ok. I am always aware that there is the chance that even now, I am symptomatic. I keep an eye on myself as much as possible, but I made an agreement with certain people years ago, especially my parents, that if they noticed something about me that seemed off, I would at LEAST seriously consider it. I don't blow them off, I investigate it as much as I can, and if what they notice does indeed fall into certain criteria that I am indeed having an off day, then I do what has to be done to fix it. If it turns out that it isn't an issue, then great, but I never just blow them off.
Quan Lavender: I have problems to use the words normal, but have no better word to describe the healthy state of mind, because I think some behavior can be “normal” for one, but already “sick” for the other. Do you think that our medical system is able to measure the degree of mental sickness or do you feel pressed in a template?
Chuckmatrix Clip: As far as the word normal goes, I think it's bullshit. There's no normal. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE has an issue of one sort or another. We're all a little fucked up. We all have an irrational fear that keeps us from doing certain things, childhood memories that haunt us, whether we admit it or not, we all have beliefs that someone else thinks is absurd. There are just certain levels of accepted behavior and thinking, which can be very different depending on your culture. If I were to take my child and cut his skin to create scars on him to mark his passage into manhood I would go to jail for child abuse, but in certain tribes in Africa, it's accepted tradition. If i fell down on the street speaking in tongues I would be picked up by the police in no time, but if i did it in certain churches there would be someone else doing it right next to me. It's all relative, there is no normal, there is just accepted.
That said, the mental health system does it's best. There are diagnoses and mixtures of diagnoses that are used, but most people who have done their research know that it's not just a template or rubber stamp, its a guide. A man who is bipolar may also have deep seated fears of chinchillas that can exacerbate certain symptoms. Those may not be a part of his illness per se, but stem from an unfortunate attack of chinchillas when he was two that he can't even remember. The diagnoses help guide us in what kind of treatment we need, but it is never as clear cut as the name of the illness that you have. So we do the best we can with the tools we have available, and thankfully, those tools are improving all the time.
Quan Lavender: How is the life after a mental disease? Do you feel completely healthy or do you fear to become sick again?
Chuckmatrix Clip: There's no life after mental disease, just like there's no life after heart disease or multiple sclerosis. It is a life long condition that doesn't go away. I'm always bipolar, whether I'm in the throws of a manic phase or completely stable, medicated and playing around on the computer. I actually read something recently that touched a nerve. What if we treated other diseases the way we treat mental illness? "I'm getting really tired of this 'cancer' of yours I think it's high time you snapped out of it!" Or... "WHAT?! you mean there's some guy with cystic fibrosis just walking around?! Can't we lock these people up?" These are things we would never think of saying, and yet they are things that are said to or about people with mental illness all the time. This isn't a life choice. People who are bipolar, or schizophrenic or who have PTSD or depression aren't out of control assholes. They're sick they have faulty wiring in their brains or chemical imbalances that can be treated, but like heart disease or fibromyalgia, it doesn't go away, you live with it for the rest of your life. It's different for everyone. Most days I feel pretty good. I feel like me, under control, balanced and generally happy. Of course I always fear decompensating and becoming fully symptomatic again, but I'm always vigilant for the signs so that, hopefully, I can make the necessary changes before it gets out of hand. The fact is though that I live with the knowledge that one day I may become sick again. Your body can build up tolerances to the medications over the years, so one day, years from now I may fly off the handle and realize, oops... my medication stopped working and I am a raving lunatic right now.
Quan Lavender: Mental disease is still a taboo to talk about. You broke it in SL. What are the reactions?
Chuckmatrix Clip: It IS still a taboo subject, which is part of why I did the show. It's ridiculous for it to be taboo. Is a cancer patient afraid to admit he has cancer? Is someone with crohn's disease looked at as some how less than human? Of course not. We're all just people, a series of life experiences, successes, failings, illnesses, and they all make us who we are. I am who I am partly because I'm mentally ill. I'm pretty happy with who I am, and I'm not afraid to talk about my illness, which has lead to an amazing realization. When I talk about it openly, nine times out of ten, the person I'm talking to is also ill or has a relative or friend who is also ill. My issues... the issues of many people with mental illness are COMMON, yet we hide it as if it's something to be feared and rejected. People so often express relief when they talk to me about it, just because they have someone who understands.
As far as reactions to the show, it's been interesting. Some people were deeply disturbed by it, and although impressed by the art work, couldn't go back in once they'd left. There were others who thanked me for my courage, for sharing such a personal story. Still others took the opportunity to share their stories, or the stories of loved ones with me. And many more were just quiet and congratulated me on the exhibit in general.
Quan Lavender: And how do you deal with it in Real Life?
As I said earlier, I use the many coping tools I learned over the years to keep myself balanced. I take my medication religiously, and I keep up with my doctors and counselors. I also keep in touch with my mom, who is often the first so see the subtler signs of my symptoms. Other that, I live my life as anyone else does. I finished school, I work on graphic design projects, and if I never told you I was mentally ill, you likely wouldn't have a clue there was anything wrong with me.
Quan Lavender: Do you think that creating and exhibiting the works was helpful for you?
Chuckmatrix Clip: Creating and exhibiting any work that I do is helpful, because it fulfills a need to express things that I find I can't express as effectively in words. This show, however, wasn't about helping me. It was about telling a story. It was my story and the story of many others like me. I hoped that it would help others. I hoped it would make some people feel not as alone in the world. I hoped it would bring a level of understanding to others who maybe didn't understand what their child or sibling or significant other is going through. I hoped to maybe help end the stigma of mental illness by daring to share this part of myself in an incredibly public forum. I think, based on the responses I got, I was successful, at least a little bit.
Quan Lavender: Thank you for that insights.
INNER PRISONS is open until September 31st. Do not miss it!
Taxi: sadly gone